This fall, approximately one hundred million U.S. kids will attend elementary, middle and high school. Ahhh -- school. We were there once. We remember the collision of boys, girls, stress, homework, peer pressure, sports, academic clubs, social clubs, cliques, teachers and the number 2 pencil.
And, of course, we remember the dress code.
Dress codes have been a topic for public debate for as long as I can remember. All schools have some form of dress code, in fact many private schools have mandatory school uniforms. I believe it is safe to say that all dress codes are pretty universally gender biased and, frankly -- really odd -- The Atlantic -- Your 11 Weirdest Dress Code Rules.
Personally, I never had to suffer a strict dress code but many kids have it forced upon them.
Mandatory uniforms have issues as well but their are a whole lot of smart folks that believe a uniform honestly helps students and educators alike.
Let’s take a quick look at both options -- the mandatory uniforms and the more general used overly strict dress code and then finally, the school that gets it right.
Some of the most common Pros and Cons of a school mandatory uniform.
Keeps students focused on education, not on the clothing they wear - vs. - Crushes individuality and promotes conformity.
I’m not one to conform so I might be biased here but I am on the side of individuality. Looking back on my time in public high school I can’t imagine certain friends not in their heavy metal tee shirts or not being able to wear their skater punk gear or not rocking their mohawk or not dyeing their hair or not being able to wear their cheerleader uniform as their daily outfit.
The entire idea just seems absurd to me!
BUT -- if uniforms did indeed keep kids focused more on education and did indeed, significantly increase student grades and improve their quality of education then I could probably be convinced that uniforms are the way to go. That being said, it appears that modern research (within the last decade) has found the opposite.
One such -- a 2009 peer-reviewed study found, "no significant effects of school uniforms on performance on second grade reading and mathematics examinations, as well as on 10th-grade reading, mathematics, science, and history examinations... In many of the specifications, the results are actually negative.”
Ryan Yeung, "Are School Uniforms a Good Fit?: Results from the ECLS-K and the NELS," Educational Policy, Nov. 2009
School uniforms reducing peer pressure, shame and bullying by creating a level playing field in regard to clothing - vs. - School uniforms do not stop bullying and may increase violent attacks.
It would be great if school uniforms reduced peer pressure and shaming because Lord knows kids are cruel to each other and that bullying is a painful, real thing that affects hundreds of thousands of children.
Sadly, it appears as if the research suggest that uniformed kids do not experience less bullying and in fact, in several studies of specific districts, bullying and violence increase. A 2007 peer-reviewed study concludes, "school uniforms increased the average number of assaults by about 14 % [per year] in the most violent schools.”
J. Scott Granberg-Rademacker, Jeffrey Bumgarner, and Avra Johnson, "Do School Violence Policies Matter? An Empirical Analysis of Four Approaches to Reduce School Violence," Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice, Spring 2007
Most parents and educators support school uniforms -vs - Students f**king hate uniforms!
Students do indeed seem to f**king hate school uniforms to the tune of 85-90 percent! Whereas the surveys I’ve read suggest parents and educators are less polarized but generally favorable to uniforms. Depending on the specific survey or research, parents and teachers are about 60-65 percent favorable.
Who’s right there? I don’t know. I would probably err on the side of -- let the kids and the parents decide what is appropriate for their child to wear or not.
And, of course -- The push for school uniforms is driven by commercial interests rather than educational ones.
Like many things in a consumer driven life, marketing and money are the sole reasons behind that thing existing. The school uniform business is a one billion dollar industry in the US alone. JC Penny’s and Sears spend millions of dollars in marketing for specific regions and target parents in order to get that school uniform business.
They even have lobbyists. In Washington. Working to keep school uniforms in place and in business. So, if you’re against school uniforms for your kids -- you have that working against you.
Perhaps late satirist George Carlin said it best, "Don't these schools do enough damage, making all these children think alike? Now they're gonna get them to look alike, too?"
Well played, Mr. Carlin.
What if my school doesn’t have a mandatory uniform policy but DOES have a ridiculously overly critical dress code policy?
Yes. I was just getting to that!
Schools who do not push a mandatory uniform usually have a dress code policy. A very strict dress code policy. Without a standard uniform, a lot of schools, it seems, want to over mandate the dress code policy to create -- well -- a uniform look.
Strict dress code policies are shockingly sexist. From overly strict (and sometimes racist) ways a young girl can style their hair to punishing them for wearing a skirt that shows **gasp** their knees! All because that would be too distracting for the boys. The typical story -- boys are not responsible for their rapey thoughts because girls just show too much damn knee skin!
Sadly, I write nothing new. There are quite literally hundreds of thousands of articles online about sexist school dress code policies and abominable behavior from adults enforcing punishment for violations. Here is a great piece on Time.com by Laura Bates, How School Dress Codes Shame Girls and Perpetuate Rape Culture. Bates is the founder of The Everyday Sexism Project and the author of Everyday Sexism. Her project collects testimonies from girls and young women from all over the world; sharing their experience of gender inequality.
There are so many stories of harassment, shame and punishment revolving around “dress code infractions” that Bates concludes, “At this point it starts to feel like such ‘codes’ are less about protecting children and more about protecting strict social norms and hierarchies that refuse to tolerate difference or diversity.”
So, what’s a parent and educator to do? Mandatory uniform or dress code policy. You get one or the other.
Well, the fine folks over at Evanston Township High School, in Evanston, Illinois have made national news by reworking their existing dress code. Evangeline Semark, Director of Communications for ETHS writes,
“This summer, a team of committed adults worked on revising our school's dress code. This effort was informed by the well-voiced concerns of our students and was in alignment with our equity goals and purpose. As we reworked the dress code, we also reflected on the stories of ETHS graduates who have walked our halls previously and experienced micro-aggressions (or worse) on a daily basis because of their personal style ...
A school can never consistently enforce some of the more nuanced, coded rules, so the result is too often a targeted policing of particular bodies (insert institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc. here). I'm looking forward to seeing the interactions among school employees and teens at ETHS shift from "take off your hat!!" to "how are you today?!" We may not get it right all the time during the first year (adult habits), but this new dress code will lead to an important shift in school culture, and will help affirm the identities of all students while reframing the focus to how we as adults can inspire young people to learn, not control what they wear.”
That sounds great and I would be really happy to hear all of that if I had kids that went to ETHS. But it’s also very easy to say these things. Enforcement of said policy and violations is also important to the process. Lots of other sources have reported some of the great things about the ETHS policy but since I don’t have a maximum word count I’ll just reproduce the entire dress code policy including their enforcement policy. It’s only an extra page and a half.
From the Evanston Township High School Student Pilot Handbook:
Evanston Township High School expects that all students will dress in a way that is appropriate for the school day or for any school sponsored event. Student dress choices should respect the District’s intent to sustain a community that is inclusive of a diverse range of identities. The primary responsibility for a student’s attire resides with the student and their parent(s) or guardian(s). The school district is responsible for seeing that student attire does not interfere with the health or safety of any student, that student attire does not contribute to a hostile or intimidating atmosphere for any student, and that dress code enforcement does not reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, cultural observance, household income, or body type/size. Any restrictions to the way a student dresses must be necessary to support the overall educational goals of the school and must be explained within this dress code.
Basic Principle: Certain body parts must be covered for all students at all times. Clothes must be worn in a way such that genitals, buttocks, breasts, and nipples are fully covered with opaque fabric. However, cleavage should not have coverage requirements. All items listed in the “must wear” and “may wear” categories below must meet this basic principle.
2) Students Must Wear, while following the basic principle of Section 1 above:
A Shirt (with fabric in the front, back, and on the sides under the arms), AND
Pants/jeans or the equivalent (for example, a skirt, sweatpants, leggings, a dress or shorts), AND Shoes.
Courses that include attire as part of the curriculum (for example, professionalism, public speaking, and job readiness) may include assignment-specific dress, but should not focus on
covering bodies in a particular way or promoting culturally-specific attire. Activity-specific shoes requirements are permitted (for example, athletic shoes for PE).
3) Students May Wear, as long as these items do not violate Section 1 above:
Hats facing straight forward or straight backward. Hats must allow the face to be visible to staff, and not interfere with the line of sight of any student or staff.
Hoodie sweatshirts (wearing the hood overhead is allowed, but the face and ears must be visible to school staff).
Fitted pants, including opaque leggings, yoga pants and “skinny jeans”
Ripped jeans, as long as underwear and buttocks are not exposed.
Tank tops, including spaghetti straps; halter tops
Visible waistbands on undergarments or visible straps on undergarments worn under other clothing (as long as this is done in a way that does not violate Section 1 above).
4) Students Cannot Wear:
Violent language or images.
Images or language depicting drugs or alcohol (or any illegal item or activity).
Hate speech, profanity, pornography.
Images or language that creates a hostile or intimidating environment based on any protected class or consistently marginalized groups.
Any clothing that reveals visible undergarments (visible waistbands and visible straps are allowed)
Swimsuits (except as required in class or athletic practice).
Accessories that could be considered dangerous or could be used as a weapon.
Any item that obscures the face or ears (except as a religious observance).
Dress Code Enforcement
To ensure effective and equitable enforcement of this dress code, school staff shall enforce the dress code consistently using the requirements below. School administration and staff shall not have discretion to vary the requirements in ways that lead to discriminatory enforcement.
Students will only be removed from spaces, hallways, or classrooms as a result of a dress code violation as outlined in Sections 1 and 4 above. Students in violation of Section 1 and/or 4 will be provided three (3) options to be dressed more to code during the school day:
Students will be asked to put on their own alternative clothing, if already available at school, to be dressed more to code for the remainder of the day.
Students will be provided with temporary school clothing to be dressed more to code for the remainder of the day.
If necessary, students’ parents may be called during the school day to bring alternative clothing for the student to wear for the remainder of the day.
No student should be affected by dress code enforcement because of racial identity, sex assigned at birth, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious identity, household income, body size/type, or body maturity.
School staff shall not enforce the school’s dress code more strictly against transgender and gender nonconforming students than other students.
Students should not be shamed or required to display their body in front of others (students, parents, or staff) in school. “Shaming” includes, but is not limited to:
kneeling or bending over to check attire fit;
measuring straps or skirt length;
asking students to account for their attire in the classroom or in hallways in front of others;
calling out students in spaces, in hallways, or in classrooms about perceived dress code violations in front of others; in particular, directing students to correct sagged pants that do not expose the entire undergarment, or confronting students about visible bra straps, since visible waistbands and straps on undergarments are permitted; and,
accusing students of “distracting” other students with their clothing.
These dress code guidelines shall apply to regular school days and summer school days, as well as any school-related events and activities, such as graduation ceremonies, dances and prom.
Students who feel they have been subject to discriminatory enforcement of the dress code should contact the Associate Principal for Educational Services.